A letter to the makers of Inside Out

20160929_235344Dear makers of Inside Out,
I just wanted to write and thank you for what I consider to be one of the best films ever made.

To explain, I have found being an adoptive Mum, at times, an extremely difficult and highly charged emotional experience. It is made more difficult by the fact that much of what I am feeling is very difficult to properly break down and understand. For me, your film articulated a lot of these feelings in such simple terms. I found myself in tears from early in the film when the yellow balls (representing happy memories) as core memories for the central character ‘Riley’ throughout her early childhood lead to her being able to build a really strong and positive sense of self-identity. In contrast my girls, without doubt, have early core memories which are blue (representing sadness) and so have had to build their early sense of self upon experiences which are sad and/or frightening. And just like Joy later in the film I can’t change that early sadness for them, I can’t remove it, it is something which is a part of them and which I have to help them to weave positively into their identity.

For one of my girls in particular who is regularly ‘driven’ by Anger, the film has helped her to start understanding that there are in fact a number of different feelings, that she can name them and that we all have them. She seemed genuinely surprised to hear that I have ‘Fear’ in my head and that I get worried about things. I asked her if she ever worries about anything and she said yes, that she worries about her sister going away. My daughter is 3. We have always thought that she was very anxious about transitions having moved carers 3 times by the time she was 18 months old but it had never occurred to us that she thought that her sister, the one constant, could maybe leave as well.

The film also gave us an easy segue into discussing birth Mum and Dad because at the very beginning of the film Riley is born and first sees her parents looking down happily at her. Happily for us we do know that this happened for our girls and were able to say this – so much nicer to have a visual depiction of it than just trying to explain verbally ‘your birth Mum and Dad loved you very much when you were born’.

And happily for me your film provided me personally with one of the best moments of my life. I was talking with the girls about which one of the little ‘people’ they thought was most like each of them and finally which one was most like me. I asked because I feel like I spend much of my time telling them off, being grumpy and tired so from that aspect I fully expected them to choose ‘anger’, or alternatively because I wear glasses and have a bob I thought they may plump for ‘sadness’. They shocked me by choosing Joy.

With love,
A grateful, re-motivated parent

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8 and counting.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe adopted two brothers who we knew to be part of a sibling group of 5 :

– The two of them.
– A baby sister who was born shortly after the boys had been taken into Care and who had already been adopted.
– An older half brother. Also taken into Care, but eventually placed with extended family (which means we can not have contact with him).
– The older sister who is 4 yrs older than our eldest.

Our boys and their older sister are very close. After being removed from their parents they spent almost 3 yrs together in the same foster placement so she had always been with them – until they were split to make adoption more viable and the boys came to us.

We were later to discover that in fact there was an additional, older half sister (paternal), as she lived with her mother she had nothing to do with social services or indeed us.

So our boys were in fact 2 of 6.

But not for long.

We later got news of a new baby brother from mum. The baby was immediately taken into Care and is now with new adopted parents.

So it was then 2 of 7.

However, that was just as short lived as apparently dad is about to become a father again too. It is assumed that the baby will stay with him and his new partner.

So it will be 2 of 8 – for now anyway. Both mum and dad have plenty of baby producing years ahead of them.

It doesn’t necessarily impact on us directly, however it does complicate things around Contact and it does require quite a lot of explaining to our sons.

Explanations as to how the siblings/half siblings fit into their lives, explanations as to why they all live where they live, explanations as to why half siblings on dad’s side get to stay with him when our boys couldn’t and most difficult of all explanations as to why mum keeps having babies if she is unable to look after them.

In addition, justification as to why there are half siblings that they do not see at all and are not part of their lives in any way – not even letter box contact.

We knew that we were not simply adopting two stand alone children, but we had not really considered that things could get quite so complicated or that we were taking on quite so much. We are very pro Contact and had agreed to twice yearly meet ups with the siblings and their adopted families as well as with their foster parents (who have such a big and important part of their lives). We are now tied to 7 different families, 4 of which meet for Contact, but who knows if and when any of the three siblings we do not have contact with will become more involved in the future.

We are thrilled to be maintaining relationships where we can, however a selfish side of us wants to scream ‘enough is enough’, there are some complications already and it feels as though they could continue to be added to our lives for quite some time.

We are fortunate so far that the families involved in Contact all get along very well. We may not have that much in common, but there is clearly respect and consideration for each other and thankfully it is all quite harmonious, however we are only too aware that may not be the case with any new people coming into our ‘extended family’.

 

I Feel Left Out

20140826_170439It’s the first time I really haven’t been able to figure out a way to give her what she yearns for and needs.
She came home from school a bit quiet and sad and when probed about why, just kept saying “I don’t want to tell you, I don’t want to tell you”.
Eventually it tumbled out of her that she wants a sister.
I assumed it was because of Anna and Elsa who she loves with a passion but no.. it was more real than that. Several of her cousins and friends have new little siblings and the phrase that she kept coming back to was “I feel left out.”
I felt heartbroken for her.
How do you tell a child desperate for siblings that she actually has four of them but she can’t see and touch and play with them?
I tried to explain that if there were more children at home, she would get less time with me, and that we are lucky we get to play and snuggle so much together but it didn’t convince her and it was a wake up call for me.
There are some things I just can’t fix or sort out for her, even though I desperately want to.  I also need to work out a way to start talking more about her  absent siblings in a way that won’t make all this worse.
She has great friends and lots of cousins to play with and is generally a very happy little bunny; but it hurts that I can’t provide this one thing for her.

The Twelve Blogs of Christmas #4: Christmas Party Games you never played before you had children…

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  1. Name that stain Being a parent apparently means accruing a large knowledge of cleaning products and how best to combine them. I can’t make a Martini but I sure can combine Vanish, Napisan and bicarbonate of soda to get melted chocolate coins out of the sofa
  2. 56 wipe pick-up The rules are self-explanatory here, just insert whichever item you would prefer your child(ren) didn’t dismantle and throw around the lounge whilst you had the audacity to go upstairs and brush your teeth
  3. Midnight tag “you get up”. “No you, I just went”. “I will give you a tenner”…..
  1. Sniff those trousers Is it wee? Is it poo? No it’s just dribble, we’re good
  2. Race the dog to the vomit A particularly charming game where one of your children has thrown up and the Labrador will ‘clean it up’ if you don’t get there first
  3. Car seat bingo What is your child eating? The only clue is that they retrieved it from down of the side of their car seat
  4. The stood-on-a-piece-of-lego party dance No explanation required
  5. Supermarket sweep – where before you were perhaps one to stop and compare prices as you made your way round Tesco, now you dash round à la Linford Christie to avoid small child meltdown
  6. Pudding roulette – they ate a lot at dinner and it’s been a very exciting day, plus you don’t want to play the Labrador game again…
  7. Patience – Of course, you played it before you had children but it turns out it ain’t a card game

The Questions #4 A peek into how we do family.

Photo by Lili Gooch

Photo by Lili Gooch

How and when does your child/children wake you in the morning?

Both girls wake at 7am. On the dot. Without fail. Whichever one wakes first usually starts calling ‘daddy’ louder and louder until one of us goes in to them but sometimes they will amuse themselves by jumping up and down in their cots.

Why adoption?

Being a gay couple it was either adoption or surrogacy. There are so many children needing adoption we felt that surrogacy wasn’t for us.

From start of assessment to bringing your child home how long did the process take?

18 months from going to the open day to the girls arriving.

 

How could it be improved?

It could be better joined up around the country, with more consistency across agencies and more joint working to ensure that children do not wait in care unnecessarily.

What has been the biggest surprise?

How overcome with happiness (and tears) I can get when doing simple things like reading a story, or playing houses with the girls or watching them play with each other.

How was the assessment process?

Some of it felt necessarily long and there was a fair amount of duplication. The problem is that during the process one puts up with it as one wants to have a happy ending. Afterwards one is too busy with ones new family life to help change the system.

What’s your favourite thing to do together?

Singing songs together and cuddling.

What makes you and your family laugh?

Tickling each other and doing silly dances.

The best thing about being a parent?

Seeing a little personality develop.

The hardest thing about being a parent?

It’s relentlessness.

The piece of wisdom you would pass on to a child?

The world is your oyster.

What time do you go to bed?

I absolutely refuse to go to bed before 11pm, which generally means I am asleep on the sofa by about 10pm

The Impossible Decision – Part 1

Photo by Lili Gooch

Photo by Lili Gooch

We are four days into our summer holiday. Last night was an unusually late night out and not so surprisingly (but in fact quite uncharacteristically) the children are sleeping late this morning, needless to say I am making the most of this rare occurrence and I am enjoying a well deserved lie-in.

I am looking out at a perfect clear blue Southern European sky and I am just starting to feel the warmth of the early morning sun and it feels good, I can sense my body responding and even without my first coffee of the day it is willingly coming to life.

I had imagined the beginning of this particular family holiday giving me some food for thought and possibly some material worth sharing in a blog, but in fact even before we left home we had news that meant that the blog was destined to be something quite different from what I could have imagined.

I was conscious yesterday that I was starting to relax and that I could feel some of the stress of the real world back home fade into the ocean as I sat on the beach and soaked up that eternally restful vista of waves breaking on the shore. In the pre children days it would take less than a day to fully relax and to lose myself in my holiday, since our sons moved in I am aware that I am now never completely relaxed – not even when on holiday – and although I can shed the burden of the stress of work and the endless bills to pay back home, the awareness of the responsibility of being parents sits heavily on our shoulders and carries its own special kind of pressures that never seem to leave you.

This is a very special holiday for our sons because we have invited their elder sister along. The sister that had always been there, the sister that had looked after them when birth mum didn’t, the sister they had left behind at the foster parents – the sister we took them away from. The sister they clearly – and obviously – love so very much.

She has had a pretty terrible time of it almost all of her life and we just can’t help feeling guilty at the fact that we have added to that, not intentionally of course, but by breaking up the family when her brothers came to live with us. I wrote in a previous blog Ask The 8 Year Old about the fact that she had been given the absurd and totally unrealistic ‘choice’ of either staying with the foster parents (and the known security that offered) at the expense of being separated from her brothers, or waiting for the huge unknown of adoption.

Her obvious decision to stay did not result in any kind of ‘happy ever after’ as not only was life in the foster home quite tough for her – but it broke down after two years.

Moved to a new foster home we have been hopeful that she would settle and be happy, but unbelievably and tragically that is not so and it was this shocking piece of news that we were given just before we left the UK.

We were told that at after just over a year and a half into the placement, the new foster parents have expressed their need to give her up too – not because of anything she has done, but because of some vague family circumstances. Social services say that they are trying to resolve the situation, but they sounded anything but hopeful.

It seems she is destined for the typical life of an ‘older child in care’, being passed around from pillar to post… unless of course we step in and adopt her too.

It’s the logical thing to do isn’t it? She is the sister of our sons, practically family already – are we really going to stand by and watch her childhood be destroyed further and not do the ‘right’ thing? Are we really just going to keep our fingers crossed and hope that eventually she will find a home and the love she deserves?

It’s obvious what has to be done. We know what is best for her. We are possibly the only people in a position to turn things around, to give her a secure, loving home and some hope for the future.

Yet to be brutally honest – it just isn’t that straight forward and we just don’t know if we can.

Of course I want to say ‘yes we will adopt her’, but it could be the wrong thing for us – for our family. We know our youngest is still not fully settled, even after three years with us and we also know that change is one of the most difficult things for him to cope with.

We know he can feel threatened when his brother is getting more attention than him, even when it is from their sister and that has been more than evident over the past couple of days.

We feel the boys have adjusted to their position as youngest and oldest child in a family of four and we fear that another child 5 years older may upset the equilibrium that we have worked so hard to achieve. Social services would not even consider putting an older child into a family if is was not a sibling and possibly only then if the situation is as desperate as this one is.

We feel that we have all ‘grown into’ our family over the last three years and that the ‘fit’ is just about perfect for all four of us now. We have never doubted our love for our sons – that was pretty instantaneous – and we don’t question their love for us now, but there was an incredibly difficult settling in period that we had to work hard to get through, there are clashes of personality that have had to be worked on, big ups and down that we have had to adjust to and learn to appreciate, to tolerate and learn how to deal with and now there is a history of understanding, respect and love as a family, as a family of four.

Although far from perfect, things are good – in fact very good now – and we are scared to threaten that on any level.

But isn’t that all just horribly selfish? Isn’t it just far too much all about ‘us’? Is that really how we should be making decisions in our lives? Keeping them safe, keeping them manageable because that suits us, regardless of the potentially devastating affect that can have on others.

There is of course the possibility that the sister could join us and all will be OK, that some of the issues we are still dealing with our youngest could actually be resolved by reuniting the siblings, that there may well be no major issues of any sort and indeed bringing her back into their lives now could be preventing issues we would face in the future when they start to wonder why she was excluded from our family.

Thankfully she is currently unaware of the new placement being under threat, but it is news waiting for her upon her return in just over three weeks time and if we step in now there is no reason that she need ever discover that truth. Ironically – and potently – she has already expressed her desire to be with us long term (that happened on day one out here) and I am pretty sure if asked she will now make the decision to be with her brothers.

It feels like we are faced with an impossible decision, we somehow feel like we could be damned if we do – and damned if we don’t.

Although time is against us (as a decision needs to be made before we return home) I guess for now we will just get on with our holiday and hope that as each day closes we will start to feel more and more sure of ourselves as a family of four or hopefully we will be feeling like a family of five. I guess we are hoping that the decision somehow makes itself and what ever that decision is it will indeed be the right decision for ALL of us.

A republish of one of our favourites… If I could.. Gifts for you..

2011-09-03 13.04.34The following is a poem that our ten year old birth daughter wrote last week for her five year old sister, who we adopted four years ago.

Her class teacher had set them a task – write a poem for someone you love. Her ‘gift list’ that she’d give her sister moved me more than I can say. Her sister’s reaction, when I read it out to her, was wordless – a shy smile and a big hug. Here’s the poem:

I would, if I could, give these gifts to you…
A bottle full of dreams high in the sky
A spark of light from the bottom of a volcano
A fight for the night
And a songbird that will drop a long feather, as warm as can be

The raindrop from the heavens,
A puppy called Kevin
A pinch of golden sand from the far desert
The wonder of a unicorn

And so these are the gifts that
I would, if I could,
Give to you